Thursday, January 19, 2017

Never ending circle.

It's now time to start planning this years garden. We started by being ruthless when sorting out our seed store, some of the seeds had travelled to Spain with us and back again, I'm not too sure how many packets of partly used seeds we dumped, but it was a lot. Once that job was done we then drew up the list of what we are growing this year, we only needed to order five packets of seeds to replenish our store, in fact it was only four packets but we also ordered Cantaloupe melon to the order, it's called Minnesota Midget and comes highly recommended by another blogger. We both love melon and it seems impossible to buy any that are worth eating so we will have a go at growing them. The seed company that we have ordered from is 'The Real Seed' company, they are a seed saving company who only use open pollination and no F1 hybrids in sight. Reading up on them they appear to be more ethical than any other seed company we have found, we look forward to growing some of their seeds.
In preparation for the growing season we took a trip to the coast to gather more seaweed,
the gods were kind to us and had left neat mounds for us to collect, we came home with fourteen sacksful of instant fertility plus twenty large mussels for my lunch the next day.
We had timed our visit just right, the tide was on it's way out.
We were a little mystified by a pair of perfectly good trainers sat side by side abandoned. There were no other people on the beach, maybe they walked there themselves, but it made a change from seeing then tied together by the laces and then thrown over power lines.
Things are moving in the garden, if this mild weather continues we will be picking rhubarb at the beginning of February.
The calendula has continued flowering all winter,
and we have a miniature daffodil out in flower,
the first crocus are also flowering but there is no sign of our snowdrops, maybe it's been too mild or too dry for them.
January is also the time that the Seville oranges arrive in the shops, we bought four kg of them and froze three kg of them, today I made the first batch of this years  supply  of marmalade. I say I made it today which is not strictly true as I started my marmalade yesterday. This recipe has never let me down and I always get a good set doing it this way.
 The one kg made seven jars of marmalade, which works out to just seven two cents a pot, not bad for a 100% organic fruit preserve..

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Spot the difference.

Last week we learnt the hard way that buying frozen fish is a waste of money and the plastic bag it comes in probally would have more flavour. We  sent an email to 'Donegal Catch' saying how disappointed we were in their product, needless to say, we received no reply. We can only assume  that they are so used to receiving complaints that they no longer bother to respond. This week we took the trip to our real fish man in Ballina,
Fresh cod versus frozen.
fresh cod was on offer at only twelve euro a kg, plaice at two euro a throw and hake at seventeen euro a kg. We now have replenished our stock of fish , this should last us for the next eight weeks.
Third generation.
Although this fishmonger has an overnight courier service, I still like to see what I'm buying, and it makes a nice trip out. This fish shop has been established for over fifty years and our fishmonger is the third generation of the family to run the business. I wonder how long this shop would have lasted if they didn't respond to customers feedback?
There are a few signs that spring is not too far away, bulbs are well up with flower buds on the daffodils,
one of the pulmonarias  is flowering,
Red hellebore.

White hellebore, I also spot a buttercup that needs removing.
likewise the hellebores,
An early Camellia.
there's even a brave camellia with one flower out, many more to come but way behind the first one.
Things are slowly developing in the new tunnel,
the garlic is well up,
broad beans not making too much headway, they are the same size as a couple of weeks ago.
Tiny cauliflower but they will come on.
Tiny cauliflowers have been planted into one of the beds, they look so small but should soon make headway with a few degrees of warmer weather, and increased daylight. Not that it's been cold this winter, so far it's been the warmest and driest for the past four years, although today it has done it's best to deliver a dusting of snow, as long as it stays just that, a dusting I will be quite happy. However, a few days of really cold weather would have been welcomed to kill off some of the nasty's in the soil, slugs in particular.
The apricot, it's got two chances.
The apricot tree gifted to us from a friend has been planted in the new tunnel, whether it survives or not is in the lap of the gods. It seems that we should have moved it late autumn as apricots are so early flowering the sap will already have risen, we are also a bit concerned that there was not enough root on it, still it has two chances, it lives or it dies. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

You must be codding.

Last week we had friends over for a meal, one of them is vegetarian but does eat fish so I decided I would do baked cod with a cream prawn sauce. We normally drive over to Ballina some 60k away to buy our fish from one of the very few wet fish shops still in existence, but still being in the Christmas period we guessed that there would be little in the way of fresh fish available so opted to buy frozen fish from our local supermarket, after all most people buy their fish this way so it must be of reasonable quality. How wrong can I be?
We bought one of the best known 'Irish' brands, 'Donegal Catch'. Unfortunately with frozen stuff you can't see what you are buying but I had a good prod at the bag and decided that I had better play safe and buy two bags to get four evenly sized pieces of cod. So the day arrived and four even peices were selected, we picked out the largest peices which would have been fine if they had not shrunk to almost half their size. Fortunately I had made plenty of prawn sauce with  lots of prawns in it, this compensated a little for the lack of cod. We cooked the cod exactly as instructed on the packet and very surprised to find a good half pint of fluid in the baking dish. We also have doubts as to whether this cod was the correct size, the flakes could barely be called flakes, quite possibly this fish was from undersized fish.
 The following day I had a good look at the packaging,
it stated that there was an 'ice glaze' of 5%, 95% cod fillets.  We then decided just for our own research to bake another piece of fish, weighing it before and after. The before weight was 77grams, the after, 48grams, a weight loss of 38%. This just does not happen when we buy fresh fish. It was not even cheap, it worked out at 15.78 per kg of fish. We buy fresh cod for 17euro a kg, and don't end up needing a magnifying glass to see the fish. We have emailed the company, needless to say we have received no reply. I guess they are well used to getting complaints. I am basing that assumption on another occasion  when I sent a query to a food company about the origin of their Organic bacon, the packaging gave the impression that it was an Irish product, in fact the pork that the bacon was cured from was Danish, but the company replied to my enquiry, by phone, not five minutes after I had sent the email. That's what I call good customer service. Needless to say, we will never be buying frozen fish again, and certainly not 'Donegal Catch'.
Spring is trying to appear, well ahead of time. We have had our first Muscovy duck egg, the willows have their pussy buds bursting, I even have an Anemone in bloom,

and I spotted the first primrose out in the bank of one of the lanes nearby. The broad beans, planted in the new tunnel are up a good three inches and tomorrow our first cauliflower plants will be planted into the tunnel, these plants were planted as seeds early November, they all germinated well and have spent the last two months in the cold frame, they are now three inches high, definitely time to be planted out. The buds on the peach trees are now swelling and there are also tip buds on the fig tree which we relocated to the new tunnel. Our new tunnel seems to becoming the fruit tree tunnel, with a peach fig and kiwi planted in it, this weekend this will be added to with an apricot tree, kindly donated to us by a friend who feels it's too big for her small tunnel . I hope it does as well as our peach tree . 
Mrs. Duck get the bread crust, unwilling to share,
Dilly Duck and hen look on,
Mrs.Duck finding it a little hard then dips it in the pond so soften it, how clever is that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Belated Seasons Greetings.

Where did the last week go? A week ago we were getting ready for our friends from Spain to arrive on Christmas eve,  and to get all the Christmas food preparation that could be done prepared so there would be no hassle over the festive period. More mince pies were made,
Simon was in charge of the cake from start to finish this year.
Christmas cake decorated, and duck liver pate' made,
The fireplace gets a Xmas makeover.
and the Christmas decorations done,
this is something that we would normally do on Christmas Eve, but we decided it would be too much hassle doing it the same day as out friends were arriving,
All ready for the festivities.
so the room got decorated a couple of days early.
A beautiful home made ginger cake from one of our appreciative customers.
We also had to make a final egg delivery to our customers, and to get the last few months rubbish down to the recycling depot. This is something that we only need to do three times a year, we do not have a refuge collection although we could, but we  produce very little waste and it would not warrant having a wheelie bin.  For the past two years we have only produced 180kg of waste per year. It's hard to know what the average amount is per person in Ireland as official reports give wildly varying figures,  ranging from 331 kg per person to 586kg per person, however what is not disputed is the fact that Ireland is the third highest producer of waste within the EU.
The cats had to have a full inspection.
Some of the things that we see dumped should have been taken to charity shops,
Misty decided this one was hers.
such as three perfectly good baskets which we rescued. One has become our Xmas decoration basket, far better than a cardboard box.
The festive period passed far too quickly, time just goes when you have good company.
All the food was declared a hit, our friends are big foodies,
100% home produced.
Christmas dinner was 100% home produced,  one of our own eight lb chickens, sprouts, parsnips and carrots straight from the garden,
The pudding was rich and black, just as a Xmas pudding should be.
followed by our homemade flaming Christmas pudding.
St. Stephens day ( Boxing day)we started with home made duck liver pate which went down very well,
Hubert Flanagan did us proud with this beautiful lump of beef.
followed by  a fantastic rib of  beef, 28 days aged, from one of our local Organic farms ( just six miles away, we try to keep our food local) this beef was from an Angus and was just about the best beef we have tasted. All this was finished off with (a very tipsy) Sherry Trifle, very much a grown up desert. The time with our friends went far too quickly, we look forward to their next visit, promised to us for this summer. Tomorrow we have friends coming for lunch. These are people who I met in blogging world, they come from New England in the US and are hoping to spend their retirement in Ireland. As one of them is vegetarian I have had to give some thought to a festive no meat menu, however we often have vegetarian food ourselves, in fact Simon was a vegetarian for many years before we met so it's not too much hardship for either of us.
We then have a few days to recuperate before heading over to friends for a New Years day lunch.
hoping you all had a Very Good Christmas, and wishing everyone a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2016

If we haven't got it we will go without.

Another wonderful sunset.
The cake is  marzipaned, but still  needs some decoration,
Last batch of mince pies made.
three dozen mince pies have been made and frozen, we always make Fleur pastry for our mince pies, it takes longer to make than shortcrust pastry but is worth the effort for mince pies. Starter for Christmas day is just smoked salmon with tiger prawns so no preparation needed for that, St. Stevens day will be home made duck liver pate, still to be made, apart from that everything is organised.
First form the round out of willow wands.
Two hours later, one wreath, cost, less than two euros.
I've made the wreath for the door, just some greenery for the candelabra and the fireplace and that will be the decorations done. As I'm more or less up to date with the festive preparations I can start sewing another cushion cover.
First cushion cover done as a tapestry.
Second cushion cover done in bargella stitch.
We have also made twelve pots of lime and lemon marmalade,
A real treat, lime marmalade.
The limes were on offer as were the organic lemons, total cost for twelve pots, six euros and thirteen cents, I have no idea how much a pot of lime marmalade is nowadays or indeed if you can even buy it here, but I know it would be a lot more than fifty one cents a pot.
We have plenty of real ale in the house, we would both rather drink that nowadays, we can get British beer cheaper than Irish ale which is a shame as there are now some excellent Irish craft beers on the market including one brewed just a couple of miles away from us. Doing a check on our drinks cupboard, (sounds like we drink a lot, we don't) we find we have plenty of red wine and even a bottle of Cava, there's even a couple of bottles of white wine which is a real mystery to us as we are red wine drinkers and five bottles of home made pea pod wine, now three years old, why did we make that I ask myself. Christmas wont cost us very much at all. The one thing that I might have gone a bit mad on is the cheese, we both love cheese and find it hard to resist especially if it's one we have not come across before, fortunately our friends who are coming also like good cheese so it wont go to waste. I wonder what other people go over the top with.
Freddy loves a box.

Decembers sunsets

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Christmas Ad nauseum.

Our local radio station is mainly a music station, little in the way of discussions, fine for late night listening or in the car. This year they decided that there would be no Christmas records played until the 8th of Dec. Wow, what a relief, however since the 8th of Dec it has been Xmas music ad nauseum, if I hear Chris Rea groaning  'Driving home for Christmas' once more I think I will be throwing the radio out. OK, I get it, it will be Christmas in a couple of weeks time, but the TV Christmas advertising has now gone on for nearly two months. Spotted on Facebook the other day,    Christmas is in December, not November, get over it.  No wonder people get so stressed about Christmas, if you don't have your table groaning under the weight of enough food to feed an small army you are not doing it right, if your tree is not decorated in the colours which someone has decided is this years fashion you are failing, and if you haven't bought this years top toy for the children you are defiantly a bad parent. I don't understand the haste to put up Christmas decorations at the beginning of December, Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night is certainly enough for me. This year however the decorations will have to go up a day or so early as we have friends coming for Christmas, arriving Christmas Eve. Our decorations will comprise of Holly and Ivy, collected from our hedges with a few cheerful candles, pine cones which we have collected and spray painted to add a touch of cheer. If it was left to my O.H there would be no decorations at all!  Extra mince meat has been made, the cake and puddings have been made, the cake still has to be marzipaned, we don't do icing, neither of us likes it. Gifts for friends in the UK are wrapped and packaged, ready for picking up by a courier on Tuesday, the cost of a courier is less than half of 'An Post'. Veg is in the garden and the bird is in the freezer, one of our own, I like keeping things simple, no tearing around shops buying what is not needed.
Mugs for two of our friends.
I have made pottery gifts for three of our friends,
A vase for another.
I hope they will be pleased with them.
And a fruit bowl for us.
I also made a fruit bowl for ourselves, I am now working on a set of matching soup/ fruit bowls but they wont be finished until after Christmas. So that's it, I'm ready for Christmas, now I can relax and do things I want to do.
So near and yet so far, just the black edges to do.
I had hoped to have finished the second  tapestry cushion before Christmas but unfortunately I ran out of black wool, 'The Crafters Basket' where I buy my supplies from will not have any in until the middle of this week which may or may not be enough time for me to finish the sewing. Never mind, if it's not finished it will wait, I'm not going to get stressed about it.
First of the purple sprouts.
At last the purple Brussel sprouts have decided to grow, we have our first picking today, why they should have taken so much longer to grow than the green ones is a mystery, they were planted out at the same time.
We have lots of wild birds visiting our feeders, they are eating us out of house and home. We have
Blue Tit.
blue tits, coal tits
Great Tit.
and great tits, plus goldfinch, a couple of friendly robins  wrens,  a couple of blackbirds
House Sparrow sharing space with a Blue Tit
and a whole army of house sparrows. These are birds which seem to stay around the back of the cottage, in the front we have thrushes, wagtails , hedge sparrows and several robins, but they never venture to the back and the bird feeders.